Three people have been arrested in connection with a real estate fraud program targeted at an elderly woman as they tried to sell her family’s centuries-old property from below.
In early March, 86-year-old Shirley Gibson found out that her plot of 3540 in Plaza St. Coconut Grove had been fraudulently sold when she went to pay tax on the property and the cashier told him they had already been paid. When Gibson said it was impossible, he was presented with a certificate of guarantee showing that his property had been sold to a Brooklyn company called Ollie Development LLC.
The deed had a signature in his name, but Gibson had not put the property up for sale or dealt with Ollie Development. According to county records, the company bought the property for $ 230,000 on March 4th.
Shortly after a discussion at the tax office, a neighbor warned Gibson that someone who claimed to be Clarence Gibson – Gibson’s father – in Zillow was listing another of his possessions, much on historic Charles Avenue in Coconut Grove. Although the property is still listed in his name in the county registers, he has died since 1987.
Both properties have been in the Gibson family for over a century and were purchased by his grandfather, who came to Miami from the Bahamas in 1904 and lived in Grove.
“I remember [the properties] to be in my family for the rest of my life, ”Gibson says New Times. “I’m never going to sell them. As long as I live, I’ll keep them.”
When Gibson found out that the scammers were targeting his property, he contacted attorney David Winker. Winker contacted Zillow to remove an ad for his lot on Charles Avenue and contacted the Trans-State Title Insurance Agency, which was the ultimate representative of the sale of his Plaza Street property to Ollie Development.
Gary Bodzin, president of the cross-border department, says New Times that someone claiming to be Shirley Gibson had listed a Plaza Street property online, and they were contacted by an Ollie Development broker to buy the lot. Bodzin says the foreclosure of properties is usually done in person, but the pandemic has led to many documents being signed remotely, leaving the situation ripe for fraudulent activity.
“People didn’t want to come to the meeting room in person. Apparently the criminals took advantage of it,” Bodzin says.
Bodzin says the scam is a theft from a buyer, Ollie Development, and that the property still belongs to Gibson if it was sold fraudulently.
Scams similar to those allegedly alleged against Gibson have been widespread, often targeting elderly property owners in historically black areas. Miami-Dade police have received more than 50 complaints about selling houses without the owner’s knowledge, according to NBC 6.
Winker reported the fraud to the Miami Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit. Three people were arrested this week, although their names have not been made public.
Miami-Dade State attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle plans to hold a press conference on the arrests this afternoon.
Gibson, who is attending a conference with Winker, says he is relieved that the authors are caught.
“It was scary to think that people could just take your property from you and sell it, and sometimes they get rid of it. This time it didn’t go that way,” he says.
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